Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Gospel Marriage: Conflict, Reconciliation and God's Glory

This is a continuation of a series on how God created marriage to be living picture of the gospel to make us more like Christ and as a witness to the world for the glory of God. We looked at this in terms of how God designed marriage to be a COVENANT similar to Christ’s covenant to us. And we looked at this in terms of HEADSHIP and how God designed the husband to be the servant leader of the home as Christ is servant leader of the Church. In this post we will look at marriage in terms of RECONCILIATION and how God designed both the conflict and reconciliation found in marriage to be a profound picture of Christ’s reconciliation of the Church.  So let’s start with a video. WARNING: some foul language.
If you find any humor in the video above, it’s probably because you’ve “been there”.   The English writer, G.K. Chesterton once said “Marriage is an adventure….like going to war.”  While actor Gary Busey observed, “Marriage is the only war where you sleep with the enemy.”  Sad, but often true. 
marriage counseling anyone?

Marriage can evoke the language of war simply because it can feel like a constant battle. But take heart, even great leaders who have demonstrated the character and patience to lead nations and broker peace agreements in the midst of civil wars like Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela, had well-documented conflicts in their own marriages – so we are in good company. Of course, marriages don’t typically start this way but for many couples what begins as a blissful union often devolves into perpetual conflict. Why is this? I believe there are two primary reasons:
1.  the husband.
2.  the wife.
Both are sinners so when the “honeymoon phase” inevitably passes our true nature often emerges and the battle begins. To compound the potential for conflict, generally speaking, men and women are very different. Our culture perpetually pushes the false notion that men and women are the same in every way, but one week of marriage usually debunks that myth. That said, I believe God did make man and woman the same in many ways in that we both share God’s image, and therefore share the same inherent value and worth, but He also made us profoundly different – to His glory. We are physically different, physiologically different and also often very different in the way we think, act, feel, process, communicate. I’m all for equality but in its march for male-female equality the world has jettisoned male-female uniqueness discarding an important element of God’s creative design.
In 1992 John Gray published a book entitled Men are from Mars, and Women are from Venus and it was an instant hit – selling over 7 million copies it grew so popular that it even became a television sitcom and a Broadway show. The basic premise of the book was that men and women are so different that they might as well have come from different planets, however understanding and appreciating these differences is the key to unlocking harmony and happiness in the relationship. What a radical concept! Our differences are not to be mocked or blurred but respected and even celebrated. In my own experience I often marvel at how God has gifted my wife with incredible amounts of “emotional intelligence” while I have the social awareness of a cave-man raised by a pack of wolves. I cannot count how many times she has (correctly) pulled me aside and told me how my words or facial expressions might have affected another person – completely unbeknownst to me.
The challenge is that our inherent differences have the potential to create a perfect storm for conflict which is why when I see a husband and wife who live in holy harmony and who have a peaceful home I find myself drawn to them like a moth to light because the glow is so attracting. Is this not what we all seek? Reconciliation in our differences. Unity in a world of diversity. Peace in the midst of conflict.
A few years ago I visited a good friend’s church in upstate New York and was surprised to see so much artwork on display in the hallways. I found that a local artist named Charlotte Blanchard was responsible for the work and the church displayed them in an effort to reach out to the community. The paintings were of natural and serene landscapes and were beautifully done but what struck me the most was not the art but the artist’s statement:
"It's all about detail and contrast coming together and making a pleasing union. I incorporate the solidarity of buildings with the fragility of flowers, light and shadows, bold colors and subdued earth tones, smooth and rough surfaces, dramatic and yet peaceful at the same time and all of this comes together to tell a story. 

It struck me that a gifted artist, someone who makes a living recognizing and expressing beauty in life through her work, would identify the unity found in diversity in life as the ultimate objective in her art. Her stated desire to “tell a story” by showing a “pleasing union” by using contrast is remarkable and I think she is touching upon a profound gospel truth here. I’m convinced that marriage is one of God’s greatest works of art. As the greatest of all artists, I believe God designed marriage to “tell a story” of a “pleasing union” that the world longs for but finds so elusive and that story is the gospel and that union is “Christ and the Church”. Think about it -- unity in diversity is the goal of every marriage and when we see it we are drawn to it and I believe in a small way we see its beauty because in it we see a picture of the triune God Himself (Father, Son & the Holy Spirit)– the ultimate coalescence of unity in diversity. Michelangelo once said that “the true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.” He too saw the goal of art as reflecting, albeit imperfectly, a perfect God – a medium upon which man can trace the transcendent.

Where can we find the power of a sublime – even divine – reconciliation? Where points of contrast can be transformed into a picture of coalescence? I am convinced this truly begins when the husband and wife understand that their union was designed by God to be a faithful picture of the gospel, only then can they then move forward in the power of the gospel. To put it simply, the reconciliation found between Christ and the Church was meant to be the model and the motive for the reconciliation, peace and harmony found between a man and his wife.
So let’s connect the dots here. How can we know that Christ’s relationship with the Church should be the model of reconciliation for the husband’s relationship with the wife? The New Testament makes it clear that Jesus is the one who initiates the peace and who is our peace:
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility  - Ephesians 2:14
And it is only by faith in His covenant of love that we can have peace with God:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  –Romans 5:1
And it is only through Christ reconciling us to God, are we enabled and empowered to forgive and also be “ministers of reconciliation”.
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  -2 Cor 5:18–19
Christ is our motive...
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  –Eph 4:32
This reconciliation is not only true of marriage, of course, but is prominently displayed in the context of marriage because marriage is one of life’s most fertile ground for conflict. I ran across the blog post a few years ago from a black pastor of a multi-ethnic church who describes the gospel picture of reconciliation found in marriage together so beautifully:
I told a couple I married this summer that their relationship was a grand opportunity for reconciliation.  They came from different backgrounds, in every way.  To start, the husband is African American, the wife Japanese American.  I told them that they didn’t appear to belong together in the eyes of some.  I told them that their relationship was an opportunity to bring together visibly opposing parties.  I tried to tie that into the Christian story because the story is chiefly a narrative about how two parties (estranged and yet full of love) return to one another.  In fact, as I think about it, that theme was in all of my wedding messages this year, with the possible exception of one, because all my marriage ceremonies were interracial.  If marriage is anything it is a community of forgiveness.  A marriage’s success or fruit or longevity is not ground up in the similarity of backgrounds and races of the couple but in the free, liberal, and frequent offering of the hardest thing in the world–forgiveness.
What a powerful expression of what every marriage should ultimately model – the unity in diversity and the beauty of a Christ-like reconciliation. While this display is perhaps magnified within the context of an inter-racial marriage it can certainly be true of any and every marriage that is built upon the glory of the gospel. Every marriage begins with two persons who may share similar interests and values but who come from different families, who have experienced distinct upbringings and are similar and yet so different. Despite being brought into this world at different times and different places these two persons somehow find each other, and although estranged by their inherent differences, ultimately find reconciliation and unity in the midst of their diversity. 

There is gospel beauty in the profound unity in diversity of a biblically-based marriage relationship because in the same way, the gospel begins with two people (Jesus and me) who are similar (Jesus being fully man) and yet so different (Jesus being fully God), who must find one another, be reconciled and build a relationship that is both beautiful and unified. This reconciliation projects a profound picture of the reconciliation found between God (in the person of Jesus) and us. Therefore, we are to live as initiators of peace and be reconciled with one another just as Christ is reconciled with those who believe in Him and enter into covenant relationship with Him. The goal of reconciliation is not just to have peace in the home. The goal of reconciliation transcends this as it pictures the reconciliation found in the gospel of Jesus Christ to the glory of God.
We live in a world where the most common stated reason for divorce is “irreconcilable differences”. Think about this for a moment. If the marriage relationship was created by God to be a beautiful picture of Christ’s reconciling love for the Church – how can we divorce on the basis that our differences cannot be reconciled? We are communicating to a watching world that a reconciling love that is bound to a sacred covenant and entered into by faith can in fact be broken and left unreconciled – when it cannot. Christ would never break His covenant of love with us on this basis and therefore neither should we.
These days the news cycle is being inundated by a video of NFL running back Ray Rice punching his fiancĂ© (now wife) unconscious with a left hook in a casino elevator. It is disturbing to watch and it seems the entire world is inflamed with a righteous anger over this senseless act of brutality and rightfully so. But where does this sense of “wrong” come from? I think a large part of the horror comes from seeing a man treat his wife with such contempt that it contradicts everything marriage is supposed to be about. Christian or not, we all believe that marriage should be marked with love and peace not anger and abuse. I am convinced that when we see this picture profaned we are rocked to our very core and it offers evidence that God, in His goodness, has placed this gospel image in our conscience.

So what is the take-away and application of this truth for my own (or future) marriage?  We will all experience conflict in our marriages, but is our marriage marked by a Christ-like reconciliation or constant strife? Do you seek reconciliation in the midst of conflict? Then you are a model of Christ who reconciled the world to himself. When you are at an impasse are you the one who initiates the peace – even when you are the one who has been “wronged”? If so, you are never more like Christ than you are at that moment – who initiated the peace though we wronged him.
When we are principals of peace in our marriage we are modeling the “Prince of Peace” and moving from “perpetual conflict” to a “pleasing union”. It is here that we shine forth the transcendent and glorious reconciliation found between Christ and His redeemed bride (the Church). And this is what marriage is all about -- illuminating the gospel as husband and wife for His glory and for our good.


  1. Love it! Thanks for sharing, Peter!


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  2. I understand your post is about what a godly marriage should look like and I agree with what you've said here. You mentioned the Ray Rice video as an example of being a contradiction of what marriage should be. I realize your post is about marriage and not necessarily domestic violence, that would be a whole other post, however, I'm slightly concerned that during this time when the national conversation is about domestic violence and the hashtag #whyIstayed, your use of the word "reconciliation" might bring bad associations for those who have been through this. Many people have stayed in abusive situations because they were taught that divorce is wrong, they should try to save the marriage, if they prayed harder or had more faith, then the other person might change. I'm not trying to cause trouble, or say that you're wrong, I know that you are disgusted by Ray Rice's actions, but I just feel that the Church needs to realize that domestic violence doesn't just happen outside our Christian circle. There are people in the church who are dealing with this issue right now. The Church is very good at explaining what God's purpose for marriage is, and that divorce was not part of God's original plan, but when conflict has been escalated to the point of violence, there are few Christian resources to help those in need and are suffering.

    1. Appreciate your feedback - I'm glad you brought this up. My purpose in including the Ray Rice commentary was to demonstrate that the reason why we are seeing such a visceral reaction to the video is because there is dissonance even for the non-believer that something is profoundly wrong when a husband treats his wife this way. I do agree that this is an issue that has largely been ignored within the Church and many are suffering for it and something needs to be done. I am hopeful that as men especially grow in their understanding of what it means to lead like Christ we will see less abuse and more confrontation from other godly men when abuse occurs. I wrote at length on the husband's Christ-like role in my last post in case you missed it here and I can't think of anyone more unlike Ray Rice in that elevator than Jesus:

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